25 years later, Mugabo opens up about battle with Genocide trauma

Seraphin Mugabo, 51, during one of the French races he competed in, in 1992. Courtesy Photos.

Before 1994, he was always seen as a confident, self-assured sports athlete, and considered one of the finest athletes of his generation.

In his 20’s, Seraphin Mugabo, a retired middle distance athlete, was considered one of the nation’s biggest hopes and represented Rwanda at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, Spain where he clocked 14:25.97 to finish in 11th in Men’s 5000m event.

Only that year, he recalls, he also took part in several other international competitions including in Frankfurt (Germany) and Budapest (Hungry) that the ministry of sports gave him a scholarship to Bordeaux, France.

But, his career was greatly troubled by what he witnessed and went through during the Genocide against the Tutsi in 1994, and has since been struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Seraphin Mugabo represented the country at the 1992 Barcelona and 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games. Courtesy.

Born in Huye, formerly Butare, in 1968, Mugabo discovered his athletics potential while competing barefoot in communal festival races, which he won tremendously.

In 1996, he also represented the country at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, United States.

Two years within his four-year study programme in Bordeaux, and a few months before the Genocide against the Tutsi started, Mugabo was suddenly told to return home. He believes the hasty decision by the Government was political, in relation to the buildup of the Genocide.

“The decision was absolutely political. I had no issue at school, and I was performing well, both in class and in athletics competitions,” he told Saturday Sport during an exclusive interview this week.

Mugabo trained daily at Amahoro Stadium, and that is where he took refuge and opened gates for thousands others when the Genocide started. Not long after, Rwanda Patriotic Army (RPA) fighters secured the stadium, and he immediately asked to join them in the struggle to liberate the country, and at the same time rescue those who were marked for extermination.

Mugabo was critically shaken by the horrifying events, and the loss of around 100 members – including three brothers – of his family and friends, but remained in the army until 2002.

Given that he had never had time to mourn his loved ones or to attend to his psychological shocks, the PTSD rapidly dominated him after retiring from the army and had no close relative to talk to. The situation was too much to handle by himself, which dragged him into homelessness and alcohol addiction.

Former athletes tried to offer him where to stay, but not having a job or something else to keep him busy only worsened his mental state.

It was not until recently that a Good Samaritan and former athletics star Serge Gasore came to his rescue through his ‘Gasore Serge Foundation’, giving him a decent shelter and helping him in his rehabilitation.

“We give him free treatment, feeding, and housing, he is making good progress in his recovery, and he has a job with Children Christian Foundation,” said Gasore.

“We are going to build him a house to help him turn his life around.”

Mugabo has one message for the young ones: “Fight genocide ideology and denial through the fundamental values of sport; teamwork and fair play.”



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